The two big media stories of 2016 were the summer Olympics and of course the ongoing drama of the presidential election. Both of these posed odd challenges for marketers and media buyers where available time was scarce, prices rose, and a broader mix of buyers were looking to find the right space for clients.
The demand for airtime was embraced by brands that are continuing to migrate back to television because of disappointing digital campaign results and the need to quickly boost their brand awareness.
“Digital has not turned out to be the great shining hope that was forecast,” said Ed Papazian of Media Dynamics, Inc., in TV is Dead? Hardly, as Upfronts Defy Gravity in Unexpected Cash Grab. Within this piece, The Hollywood Reporter points out that upfronts—when networks sell the bulk of their primetime ads—last year generated $8 billion for English-language broadcast and close to $9 billion for cable. “Analysts are predicting a 3 to 5 percent increase this year,” underscoring the broader understanding that TV can still hold tremendous value for brands.
The election coverage, the negative and positive Olympics coverage, and the disappointment with digital all converged to increase demand. This created an odd environment for brands and marketers, one with both opportunities and challenges.
For managers that paid attention, there was some lessons learned during this period. Consider these four examples:
Leverage all of the Devices
According to a 2015 survey conducted by cross-channel marketing firm Signal, only six percent of marketers worldwide reported an adequate single view of customers or prospects across all devices and touchpoints.
In today’s world of “second screening” and near constant use of smartphones, the ignoring of cross-device platforms offers opportunity for savvy marketers. If they can leverage data to find and then segment the right audiences with relevant messages delivered via those devices, then they can capture attention.
Consider the savvy digital marketing campaigns of Bernie Sanders that combined TV buys with digital video content. The segmented audience groups were hit with targeted content, allowing the campaign to leverage the overlooked digital platform.
Social Moves the Needle
The 2012 Barack Obama reelection campaign saw a spending of $47 million on social media digital efforts, compared to only 4.7 million for the Romney camp. According to a summer 2016 analysis from analytics firm mediaQuant, Trump amassed more than $372 in free media from just his Twitter mentions, compared to only $93 million for Hillary Clinton, underscoring the power of social channels to grow supporters and extend messaging throughout the population.
Social sharing is a common activity for most consumers, and smart brands will find ways to advertise their products in ways that encourage organic sharing.
Total Audience Measurement (TAM) Produces “Earned” Media
To say the 2016 election season is polarizing and controversial is an understatement, as the campaigns and media dive into uncharted waters. There is a lesson in the power of media by examining the Trump strategic within the context of the new media metrics of audience impressions.
Despite his lack of political or governmental experience, Trump has leveraged his TV experience that allowed him to secure the nomination without traditional donor support. He and his managers understand Total Audience Measurement (TAM) across various platforms and how controversial comments could generate a massive amount of “earned” media with negligible expense.
A CNN.com article by Van Jones summarized the Trump-media dynamic, saying, “The most successful politicians have an innate understanding of that environment and the skill to act on it. In our era, that could be Trump.” While some of the Trump’s comments derailed his campaign and were highly controversial, he does illustrate the power of controversy to stand out in the digital environments.
Deciphering Between “Bought” and “Earned” Media
The fourth lesson from the unforgettable 2016 media environment comes in an examination between “bought” and “earned” media mentions. A The New York Times’ The Upshot article compared the total amount of “bought” and “earned” media since the start of the campaign season for all of the major democratic and republican candidates.
Bought media meant paid political advertising while earned media encompassed news and commentary about the campaigns on television, in newspapers and magazines, and on social media.
Trump’s nearly $2 billion worth of earned media as of June 2016 nearly doubled Clinton’s, and the trend (for better or worse for Trump) continues as the race comes to an end. The news coverage is intensifying as November approaches, pulling in considerable audiences. Advertisers should ride this cresting wave now while they can still impact their client’s businesses.
It’s still one of the most engaging and memorable elections in modern history, and advertisers would do well to pay attention to the resulting media landscape across TV, social, and other digital channels.
The election and the Olympics/Zika/Ryan Lochte coverage underscore that media is powerful as an information gathering, sharing, and disseminating force. It’s an omni-channel world, where cross-device marketing and social media come together to powerfully influence the lives and opinions of every connected person.
About the Author: Jessica Hawthorne-Castro is the CEO of Hawthorne, an award winning technology-based advertising agency specializing in analytics and accountable brand campaigns for over 30-years. Hawthorne has a legacy of ad industry leadership by being a visionary in combining the art of right-brain creativity with the science of left-brain data analytics and neuroscience. She can be reached at (310) 248-3972 or via email at [email protected].
 Guthrie, Marisa, TV is Dead? Hardly, as Upfronts Defy Gravity in Unexpected Cash Grab, The Hollywood Reporter, May 20, 2016.
 Cross-Device Targeting High in Demand, but Still Underdeveloped, eMarketer, December 2015.
 Jones, Van, Trump: The social media president?, CNN.com, October 2015.